Correction:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries that are scheduled to open in coming weeks. It is three, including Capital City Care. This version has been corrected.

Washington’s first medical marijuana dispensary prepares to open next month

Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN - Above, David Guard, general manager of Capital City Care, the District’s first licensed medical marijuana dispensary. At left, signs offer legal warnings and the store’s no-returns policy.

Security cameras have been installed, scales calibrated and signs declaring “no returns” hung on the walls at Capital City Care.

There’s just one thing missing before the District’s first medical marijuana dispensary can open its doors: The marijuana itself.

(Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN) - Signage inside Capital City Care.

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“It’s very high-grade, very pure, very potent marijuana,” said David Guard, co-founder and general manager. “But first, everything has to be triple-checked. We have a high level of security and an inordinate number of cameras.”

The medical marijuana is currently being grown in a separate building in Northeast Washington. District rules require that the plants be in the ground for at least 60 days before they are harvested, and each cultivation facility is limited to 95 plants at any given time.

By mid-April, Capital City Care plans to begin selling four strains of medical marijuana from its 2,000-square-foot perch on North Capitol Street. Two more licensed dispensaries are slated to open shortly thereafter.

The District legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but Guard and his team continue to toe a tricky line. Federal law still prohibits the growing and selling of marijuana, and the Obama administration has not been shy about clamping down on errant medical dispensaries. In 2012, more than 100 medical marijuana facilities throughout the country were raided by federal officials, according to Americans for Safe Access, a Washington-based advocacy group.

“At some level, yes, there is risk,” Guard, 41, said. “You have to remember marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug. But our thought is — and we’ve given it a lot of thought — that we’re doing this for the patients. It is a risk that we run, but we do have a very tightly run program.”

Guard would not disclose how much it cost to start the dispensary, saying only that the total investment was less than $1 million. Even so, he says it won’t be easy for the company to break even.

“The overhead costs are extremely high,” he said. “D.C.’s program is going to be small so we’re not going to be rolling around in cash. Honestly, we’re going to struggle to pay payrolls and pay back our investors.”

District rules allow patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis or glaucoma to buy 2 ounces of marijuana every 30 days. Prices have yet to be set, but one-fourth of an ounce of marijuana is expected to cost between $100 and $120 — roughly the same as its street value, said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access.

The economic effects of legalizing medical marijuana are not clear yet, Sherer said, adding that at the very least, the move will bring in revenue from sales tax (6 percent in the District) and create a handful of local jobs (at least eight at Capital City Care, Guard says).

For Guard, the opening of Capital City Care will be the culmination of a years-long journey that began in 1998 when D.C. residents voted on a ballot referendum calling for the legalization of medical marijuana.

Guard, then a graduate student at American University, collected signatures and helped work the polls on campus.

“I have been waiting and waiting all these years to get started,” Guard said. “When the time came, we pulled together a great team. From growing to selling, we have real experts.”

In addition to medical marijuana, the storefront will also sell hash by the gram, as well as accessories such as pipes, grinder and vaporizers. There is a counseling room for individual and group sessions, and Guard said he hopes to eventually set up a kitchen at the company’s 11,000-square-foot cultivation facility, where items like cookies and muffins can be prepared.

But first, he’ll need to get approval from the District.

“We are creatures of regulation,” Guard said. “And we’re fine with that. I mean, why not? We’re just selling medication.”

 
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